Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman brought plenty of attention to the term “Bucket List” in a movie that they co-starred in a few years ago. For those that don’t know, a bucket list is a term that defines the things that an individual would want to do before they leave this Earth.
Golfers often talk about their own bucket list when it comes to the courses they want to play before they die. In my case, Augusta National,
Pebble Beach and Prestwick in are courses that highlight my own personal bucket list. These are places that I have been lucky enough to play. There are many other venues that I have been fortunate enough to experience, but until this week those three stood out. Scotland
Augusta National is every golfers dream.
could be the most spectacular setting in the world. Pebble Beach Prestwick was founded in 1851 and was the site of the first 12 British Open Championships. It’s hard to beat that lineup, but after this week I will add a fourth to my bucket list.
Bethpage Black on
Long Island was the site of the 2002 and 2009 United States Opens. Tiger Woods won the first Open at Bethpage and Lucas Glover prevailed last year when Bethpage became a swamp after late June rains deluged the area. New York City
Bethpage Park complex is owned by the State of and it consists of five golf courses- the Black, Red, Blue, Yellow and Green. While the Black course gets the modern day recognition, the Green was built in 1923. The Red and Blue were opened in 1935, one year ahead of the Black. Tillinghast, the famed golf course architect, gets the credit for designing the courses at New York Bethpage.
Dave Catalano is the Director of Bethpage State Park. He has served in that position since 1995. Catalano actually first started to work at
Bethpage in 1967 when he got out of college. He once served as the golf course superintendent for the Green course.
“My job is to keep everything coordinated, which is not an easy task sometimes,” says Catalano. “We have 50-80 employees who are charged with taking care of the five golf courses, adjacent polo fields and picnic areas.”
Bethpage experience is widely known in golf circles. Players line up the night before to secure precious starting times. When I played last Tuesday, the five Bethpage courses entertained nearly 1,700 rounds- that day!
“I would say that 1,700-1,800 per day is a little busy,” observed Catalano. “Our typical day this year is around 1,450. Play is down this year. We have had perfect weather, so I would say the economy has had an impact. We raised our fees and that probably hurt as well.”
The fees to play the Black course, assuming you can get on, are $135 weekdays and $155 on weekends. Residents can play for $70 and $80, respectively. Fees on the other four courses at
Bethpage range from $36-$41.
The thing that makes Bethpage extremely unique is that you see walkers with pull carts, people toting their own bags, blue collar types and the
execs. No golf cars are allowed on the Black course. The parking lot extends over acres because it takes some space to accommodate vehicles for 1,800 people. The clubhouse area is like the proverbial ant hill with golfers crawling everywhere. It’s difficult to find 20-feet of open space on the putting green and plan to stand in line if you want to hit a warm-up bucket. Manhattan
However, the entire buzz is left behind when you step onto the first tee at Bethpage Black. You are about to enter a tranquil, but brutal course that sports some of the world’s toughest holes. I have been fortunate to play Augusta National the past two years. I can tell you that Bethpage Black matched the pristine playing conditions that The Masters site is known for.
My foursome on Tuesday included my daughter, Ambry. We were joined by Doug who sells lubricants and lives in The Hamptons. He packed his own sack. Our fourth player was Tom, as anesthesiologist from
, who showed up with a pull cart. Tom set the tone on the first tee, “Well, we are here. We might as well play it all the way back.” New Jersey
Doug and I looked at each other and said, why not. So, we tackled the 7,498 yard par 72 obstacle course. As Doug would later describe Tom’s game, “He hits it forever, but he has no zip code.”
Pace of play for our round was five hours and 15 minutes. My highlight was making a birdie on Number 4. This is the signature hole for the Black course. It is an uphill par 5 that plays longer than the 517 scorecard yardage.
Catalano said it best, “The diversity of our players at
Bethpage is really unique. We have all races, all economic types. To do that everyday and host U.S. Opens with the best players in the world is pretty special.”
The term Bethpage is a Biblical reference to a strip of land that lies between
Israel and . According to Catalano, founders of the Jerusalem Bethpage community encouraged government leaders to name this special spot with that in mind. They did it with geographical implications in mind.
After Tuesday, I would propose that from a golf standpoint, the name is absolutely perfect. With all its beauty, serenity, craziness, crowdedness, diversity, hackers, avid players and best golfers in the world- Bethpage Black lies somewhere between everything in the sport of golf. Bethpage Black just landed squarely in my bucket!